Last month we invited our signatories to contribute to the TSC blog answering one simple question: “Why should schools expand learning time?” Today’s submission is from Peter Christianson, Executive Director of Urban Ecology Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

There are many merits of ELT, so let’s focus for a moment on logistical benefits.

The Urban Ecology Institute (UEI) delivers natural science field study curricula, materials and teacher training to urban public schools. The hands-on, place-based approach works in these schools for two reasons: first, students are able to place science concepts into a familiar context; and second the tactile approach helps to bridge language difficulties among underserved populations.

These same students, who face extraordinary obstacles in order to get to school and learn in English, also live in our most resource-starved cities. They are in the bullseye of people who might not get a bite to eat first thing in the morning unless it is at school. They might not have a safe place to go at the end of the day in homes without adequate family supervision in the afternoon.

It follows that, if they can get to school, it can become a resource for them that fills many needs in their lives, and staying there longer is not only NOT a burden, it could be very beneficial.

What if that extra time in the morning or in the latter part of the afternoon is used for tutoring or for alternative forms of teaching, such as natural science field studies? Public school teachers are highly committed to achieving results with their students, and they realize more than most, that there is a tipping point that must be reached in order for these underserved groups of urban students to gain the clarity and confidence they need in order to really learn.

Think of the teachers who have sponsored public school clubs that students have taken advantage of for decades. What UEI and others like us do is provide the teachers with the curricula and formats they need so that they are not required to plan for this extra time. Also, think of the way that teachers probably always used this after school club time to actually work on other things while the children are doing self directed exercises. Teachers we work with, and we now serve 10,000 middle and high school students in Massachusetts each year, are willing to invest a little more for a big return.

Not only is the marginal investment least expensive when using the same facility and the same teachers, but ELT can contribute to a higher sense of social cohesion among communities that all too often have to use their wits for survival instead of intellectual pursuits. Has school spirit really become obsolete? Bracketing the school day with a variety of activities at the school may repair what is too often a wary relationship between the students and their studies.

Let’s leverage our investment in public schools by using them more. Let’s take that extra time to help these students and communities reach a tipping point that catapults them beyond coping and into succeeding. Let’s use common sense tools to make an extended learning experience interesting and complementary to the normal school day and curriculum.